Screening chip could speed up pathogen detection in animals

By Linda Rano

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Influenza, Virus

A new screening chip designed to detect diseases in poultry and
livestock could help limit supply problems and economic loss, which
have been a considerable headache for meat processors in recent
cases of disease outbreak.

The microarray was developed by scientists at the UK Institute of Animal Health (IAH), and is said to be able to detect up to 300 different viruses that infect animals and humans, including farm livestock and birds. "Some of the worst threats to farm workers and farm animals such as bird flu, foot and mouth disease and other emerging viruses could soon be identified by using a simple screening chip​," said the Society for General Microbiology (SGM) in a statement. The microarray chip has already been used to detect infectious bronchitis virus that infects poultry causing economic loss for the poultry industry. It has also been used to detect foot and mouth disease virus. A foot and mouth outbreak in the UK in 2001 saw five million sheep, 764,000 cattle and 435,000 pigs and goats slaughtered. Beef processors were only allowed to resume trading in 2006, five years after the FMD outbreak. SGM explained that the chip contains specific small regions of virus genes that react with any viruses in the samples being tested, showing up as coloured spots on glass slides. The method can also be employed to ascertain if a sample contains a number of viruses. Dr Paul Britton at the Institute of Animal Health said: "At the moment the common methods for detecting viruses rely on some previous knowledge, such as recognising the clinical signs of a disease." "A system that can be used by almost anyone, and that can quickly and accurately be used to identify the particular virus early on is vital to control these diseases before they spread.​" He added that the great advantage of the microarray based diagnosis is that disease investigators do not have to know which virus they are looking for. It can be used in the early stages of a disease outbreak to "quickly identify​" the threat to animals. "The chip we've developed consists of over 2,800 stretches of genes from over 300 viruses from 36 different virus families​." Dr Britton said that the cost of the chip is currently high because it is a research tool, however the IAH hopes to make some available soon to members of the Epizone project. The Epizone project says it is a "network of excellence"​ and a "virtual institute"​ comprising representatives from 18 institutes from 12 countries. It aims to improve research on preparedness, prevention, detection, and control of epizootic diseases within Europe to reduce the economic and social impact of future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever, avian influenza, and other relevant epizootic diseases. The screening chip is due to be discussed at the Society for General Microbiology's 162nd​ meeting held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre which is being held from 31 March - 3 April 2008.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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